Spooktoberfest Special: The Soul-Sizzling Terror of Halloween with Tarot, Part One

My month-long celebration of Spooktoberfest reaches its spine-chilling climax this week, and while there’s nothing I like better than a good round of Holiday-themed posts, each year that we plug away here at ISB Industries means that I’ve got to do my best to top whatever it is I did last year.

This time around, that presents something of a problem. After all, when it came time for the scares last year, I turned to The Super-Naturals (Part One, Part Two), a six-part chiller from the minds of Brian Pulido, Jim Balent, and Mark “Manhunter” Andreyko that featured both X-Treme BMX Champ Johnny Blaze and Groot, the Tree That Walked Like a Man. Because really, when it comes to all-out Halloween madness, it just doesn’t get a whole hell of a lot crazier than that.

At least, it doesn’t under normal circumstances. But what you are about to see, ladies and gentlemen… is not normal.

For you see, in an effort to bring you the most horrifying Halloween possible this year, I have descended into my own Vault of Fear and returned with a soul-searing saga so unrelenting that I am obliged to offer you a Free Coffin* if you die of fright while reading the next two posts. If this seems too…. intense for you, please go no further! For your own safety, a link has been provided that will take you away from the shocking sights contained below, to a place where the most frightening thing you’ll see is Ernest Borgnine with a switchblade.

Because, my friends, I have returned with the work of Jim Balent, and unlike last year–and I can hardly believe myself that I am about to type this–this time, he’s not subject to Brian Pulido’s mediating influence.

Submitted for your approval…

 

THE TWO-PART TERROR OF TAROT: WITCH OF THE BLACK ROSE!

 

 

Released just in time for Halloween 2004, “Witches and Kittens” was a two-part Halloween crossover between Tarot and Balent’s other Broadsword Comics creations the Three Little Kittens, and while I probably don’t even have to say this, it is not very good.

It is, in fact, one of the worst stories I’ve ever read, and until the release of the recent “Witch Key” storyline, it was in fact the worst Tarot story of all. Think about that. Not only is this story worse than your average comic, but it’s actually worse than every other issue of Tarot. Remember, folks: the Coward’s Exit is right here.

But maybe it’s best to start with the basics: The 3LK (as they’re often abreviated by the dozen or so fans of the book) are essentially Jim Balent’s way of saying “I drew a woman dressed as a cat for six and a half years, and you know what? Still not tired of it.” Essentially Charlie’s Angels in fetish gear, the original three-issue mini-series was described by Balent as an “all-ages action adventure” story, presumably because the lead characters refrained from hardcore nudity. This story, however, bears no such restrictions.

But anyway, all you really need to know about them (and “need” here is used in its loosest sense) is that you’ve got Cattress, Jaguara, and.. (sigh) Kitty Pop, and they go on missions for “Mommy Cat,” most of which revolve around stopping their nemesis, Latex Red, who responded to being booted from the 3LK program by putting together an army of satanic Schoolgirls and getting ginormous breast implants composed of semtex.

And really, you have no idea how much I wish I was making any of that up.

So, all on the same page? Good. Best to move on.

This story opens with Tarot looming bustily over Salem and fretting about whether or not Halloween’s gotten too commercial. Fortunately–or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it–her musings are interrupted before she can get around to asking Charlie Brown about the Great Pumpkin and/or duking it out with a cannibal gingerbread woman by the untimely arrival of the Three Little Kittens and their allegedly hilarious cat-themed sound effects:

 

 

What, you thought I was kidding? In the words of Mark Hale, “Wow. Even the motorcycles are sexist.”

Either way, the Satanic Schoolgirls end up causing the Kitten-Mobile or whatever to crash into a comic shop–which, of course, only stocks 3LK merchandise–knocking out the heroes and gaining the upper hand. Of course, this all just begs the question of just what exactly the 3LK are doing rolling through Salem on Halloween, and when the answer is revealed, it becomes the first jaw-dropping shock of the story.

Brace yourselves.

 

 

Yup. Saddam Hussein.

This, I imagine, is going to require a bit of explanation, presented for your edification as a handy flashback.

Cut to Baghdad, “minutes before the war,” wherein the way for the assault by American troops was paved by three women in PVC corsets:

 

 

Because really, if you can think of a more logical course of action, I’d like to hear it.

Yes, in an altruistic effort to prevent the war from occuring, Uncle Sam sent in the 3 Little Kittens to extract Saddam Hussein in what was to be a bloodless coup, but sadly, these efforts were defeated by the actions of (and again, you’re probably gonna want to brace yourself here)…

 

 

Latex Red.

 

 

Take away the painted-on whiskers, and that was pretty much my reaction too.

Needless to say, the operation does not go as planned, Saddam escapes to the hole in the desert where he was found later, and, mercifully, the flashback ends, without ever actually explaining why Saddam’s being transported through Massachusetts in a bright green Ferrari on Halloween. Devil’s in the details, I suppose.

To his credit, though, Balent does manage to pull off a pretty nice gag at this point as Hussein makes his escape from the palace:

 

 

It’s actually a pretty good sight gag–and by Tarot standards, it’s downright Mel Brooksian–and as much as I gripe about Balent’s attempts at humor, it’s well worth a chuckle.

Until, of course, you remember that it’s a joke made about a war that’s cost us the lives of almost four thousand American soldiers and countless Iraqi citizens in a book designed solely to present horrorporn starring large-breasted witches, at which time the crushing despair returns with a vengeance.

Anyway, back in the present, Tarot does her best to help the 3LK out of their crash, but they immediately assume that she’s a bad guy, because hey: How many women can there possibly be out there with F-cup rack and super-powers (the fact that this is a story drawn by Jim Balent notwithstanding)?

Thus: Bondage.

 

 

And from there–with the heroine of our story neatly incapacitated and tied up in the span of two panels–the litany of fetishes just keeps on growing, from the relatively common–Satanic Schoolgirls with ninja swords–to the downright horrendous:

 

 

Once that’s out of the way, though–along with a guest appearance by Tarot’s Boyfriend/World’s Worst Super-Hero Jon Webb and a shot of Saddam Hussein by Jim Balent by way of Salvador Dali–Hussein’s eventually captured by Latex Red, Raven Hex shows up, and that, thankfully is the end of Part One.

As for the conclusion to the story, well, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens, but at the very least, we can rest tonight knowing that after all that, there’s no way it could possibly get worse.

 

TOMORROW ON THE ISB:

 

It Gets Worse.

The Week In Ink: 5-31-07

That ominous rumble of thunder that you may have heard yesterday as you approached your local comic book store? That, my friends, was the sound of a day when Anita Blake, Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, and Dark Xena all hit the stands at the same time.

I call it… the Perfect Storm.

 

 

Yes, comics may have been delayed this week, and while words can barely capture the abject joy that I felt reading through this week’s stack, the Internet’s Most Mind-Shattering Comics Reviews can wait no longer! Here’s my highly dubious purchases from this week…

 

 

…and these are the even more questionable opinions that led me to those purchases!

 


 

Comics

 

Amazons Attack #2: The second installment of Amazons Attack is nowhere near as jarringly disjointed as the first one, but I was still pretty lost in a few places, and I’m really not sure whose fault that is. I mean, really: you can’t blame Will Pfeifer, whose run on Catwoman continues to be one of the best books DC’s publishing, for writing a footnote-laden story that doesn’t quite make sense if you’re not following the book it spins out of, what with its very nature as a spin-off. If anything, it’s Jodi Picoult’s fault for not appearing to have any discernable idea of what she’s doing on the main title, thus keeping me from reading it. Either way, it’s got its solid, exciting moments (like the Amazons being bad enough to bring down a fighter jet with a bow and arrow), and while it pains my heart to see Pfeifer have the Justice League referring to each other by their first names while they’re out in public, I guess that’s just what those guys do now. I just wish I wasn’t missing half the story.

 

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures Handbook #1: Because apparently, there’s a market for a book of in-depth information on characters from a comic book less than a year old, read almost exclusively by people who have also read the twenty-eight part novel series upon which it is based. That’s why.

 

Countdown #48: As those of you who have been paying attention may remember, my policy with Countdown since the first underwhelming issue has been to wait out the first four to give the entire rotation of writers a chance, and while I can already tell that it’s going to be one of those books that’s perpetually on the chopping block, I’m just barely interested enough in it to keep going. At this point, despite what looks like Adam Beechen’s best efforts at dredging up something interesting, it’s succeeding solely on the fact that it’s posing a few interesting questions (like why Jimmy Olsen’s sprouting new super-powers, apparently at random), but it’s severely held back by the fact that the majority of the questions tend to involve characters that I just don’t care about at all, and while 52 did a pretty bang-up job of juggling the multiple storylines (usually by focusing them on different characters in each issue), Countdown just feels jumbled and choppy. Throw in yet another phenomenally boring back-up feature about how the Multiverse works now–because, y’know, we didn’t get enough of that last year with Donna Troy and her floating basketball–and it really just boils down to wanting to know what’s up with Jimmy and the New Gods.

Seriously, though: Perry White?! Is there anybody left who doesn’t know Jason Todd’s secret identity?

 

Daredevil #97: Ah, finally: For those of you wondering if I actually liked new comics anymore, allow me to reassure you with that most soothing balm to today’s discerning comics reader, Ed Brubaker. I generally have nothing but good things to say about Brubaker and Lark’s Daredevil, and this issue’s no exception, seeing as it involves a blind ninja acrobat lawyer fighting a mentally-disabled man who puts on a helmet, straps buzzsaws to his wrists and essentially becomes Master Blaster from Beyond Thunderdome on a rampage. That, my friends, is almost exactly what I want from a comic, and the only reason it doesn’t hit the mark dead on is that you just cannot feasably add a bear to the fight scenes of every comic.

Not yet, anyway. We just don’t have the technology.

 

Dark Xena #2: Words fail me whenever I try to convey my feelings about this, the greatest comic ever produced by the hands of men, but allow me, if you will, to just point out one thing about this issue: Evil Xena–who proves that she’s way more evil than Good Xena by quoting Evil Willow from that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer–is rolling around the countryside with her crew, which consists of Big German (?!) Guy, Hot Ninja Girl, and Ted Raimi’s Evil Twin Brother Who Is Also Portrayed By Ted Raimi, which is something I didn’t even know my life had been lacking until today. Truly, a world in which this comic exists is the finest of all possible worlds.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #2: I probably mention this every time I talk about my love for Hellboy, but if you grab yourself a copy of the first trade, you’ll probably notice that it’s dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft and Jack Kirby, and in that one quick summary of his influences, Mike Mignola explains the aesthetic that makes Hellboy so great. It’s the conflict between the unfathomable horrors that lurk in darkness–always drawn in shadowed, dim tones–and the bright red stone-handed monster-punching hero, who continues to remain thoroughly unimpressed with the creatures of the night even as they attempt to reveal sinister prophecies about his own destiny.

Prophecies that he interrupts in this issue by telling them, and I quote:

“How ’bout this?
I let you finish your little meeting,
and I won’t shoot anybody
or burn the place down.”

How can you not love a character like that? Short answer: You can’t, and this issue’s Hellboy at his best, with Mignola’s fantastic script and some truly amazing art by Duncan Fegredo, who does a great job of keeping the look of the series consistent with the earlier installments. Simply put, it’s excellent stuff, but really: Nobody needs me to tell them how good Hellboy is.

 

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #44: To put it mildly, Tarot is a book that often raises a lot of questions whenever I read it, and this month, I guess the one that springs readily to mind is this: Come on, Jim Balent, are you even really trying anymore?

Of course, the jury’s still out on whether or not Balent’s ever tried, but really: This one opens up with a scene that’s pretty much the exact same sequence as the last issue, but with a different background, as Tarot shows up for a witchity meeting and–finding herself stood up again–decides to go ahead and diddle herself for nine pages, at which time a big angry rock monster shows up to conk her on the head and introduce her to the wonderful world of bondage fetishism. Incidentally, it’s at this time that Tarot takes to referring to her vagina as both an “altar” and a “cauldron,” thus killing any joy that was left over from watching Balent’s difficulty with homophones. Also of note: Tarot’s new friends in this issue, Twizelpix and Twylynn, both of whom manage to make it through the issue naked and nearly pecked to death by crows in what Balent describes as a story that “celebrates women.”

So yeah, Countdown‘s lookin’ a lot better about now.

 

Teen Titans #47: This has been one of those titles that I’ve been buying more out of curiosity as to what’s going to happen next than actual enjoyment since before the One Year Later jump, but I’ve been looking forward to Adam Beechen coming on the title for a few months, especially given his stellar current run on Robin. Sadly, his first issue as solo writer seems full of wasted potential, and even forgiving last month’s ludicrous plot–where Deathstroke apparently got the bright idea that his kids would have a better life if he pretended to try to kill them, in what essentially amounts to Geoff Johns re-using Zoom’s motivation–there’s just not a whole lot here to like. It’s bogged down with tie-ins to Countdown and Amazons Attack, neither of which I particularly care about, and rounded out with a big fight that feels like it was thrown in just to meet a page count, and there’s no real reason to keep buying it unless a new direction hits soon.

 


 

Trades

 

Penny Arcade v.4: Birds Are Weird: Unless it’s your first day on the internet and you decided to see what happened when you typed “vampire batman punching dogs” into Google, you probably don’t need me to draw your attention to the fine comic strips of Penny Arcade. Seriously, though, even if you’ve been holding off on buying the print versions–which is a pretty understandable decision, given the fact that you can read the whole strip for free online–this one’s well worth the purchase. Why? Because for the bonus material, they’ve printed up some of Gabe’s downright Liefeldian Middle School work, when he was creating masterful super-hero work like Psy-Fox and a character that is “essentially Wolverine plus electricity.” I haven’t laughed so hard reading something since… well, since Satan’s Sodomy Baby, but man, it’s funny.

 


 

And that’s the week, and while there’s an awful lot of negativity up there, I guess it’s nice to be reminded that a set of standards that allows for enjoying Tarot can still find fault in… well, anything, really. As always, if you’ve got any questions or concerns about this week’s reviews–like, say, why I bothered to take the extra day when I had such a relatively small amount of comics to review, and whether or not it had anything to do with Super Paper Mario–feel free to leave a comment.